Monthly Archives: September 2014

A New Enemy: A Letter From The Front

New Enemy

U.S, Army 37th Military Advisory Division Sept.–20–
Somewhere on the Syrian Border…

Dear Jane,

We arrived here last night. I don’t think I am supposed to tell you where “here” is but I think that is silly. With GPS and other technology the enemy must surely know where we are. No one is invisible anymore.

It is devilishly hot. It feels like 110 degrees in the shade. The new “No boots on the ground” directive is in effect so we have all been issued moccasins, not very good for a victory parade but they are supposed to be effective for sneaking up on the enemy and catching them by surprise. Anyway we have ample supplies in case they wear out. Speaking of the enemy I hope we get some guidance on who and where they are. In the good old days armies had distinctive uniforms and soldiers knew who they were supposed to kill. Here everyone wears the same raggedy clothes. We should have brought a supply of shirts saying “I am a moderate rebel” to distribute. Anyway, I think our job is to support and advise rather than kill. No one asked for my advice yet which is a good thing. As you know we had a crash course in Arabic before we left. I tried conversing with a fellow who looked harmless enough. He kept smiling and nodding. It turns out our instructor spoke with an Egyptian accent which no one here understands.

Before we left we were told of a vast coalition of people ready to fight with us. Maybe I will meet them later. Or maybe they are helping in other ways like rolling bandages or sending food packages.

We were also told that crushing and uprooting the Islamic State was not an easy task and that we were here for the long haul. But what I am wondering is how will we know when we have won? In the good old days and from what you see in the movies armistices were signed, and then there were unconditional surrenders. Treaties followed. Everyone shook hands and everyone went home. The End. But wars are not what they used to be. Anyway I hope I get someone to support and advise soon. Maybe he will even speak English.

Sorry if I sound downbeat. Hope you are well and I will write again as soon as I can.

Joe

It Ain’t Necessarily So

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It ain ‘t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The things that you’re liable
To read in the Bible
It ain’t necessarily so

From Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin

According to a recent Gallup Poll three in four Americans say they believe the Bible is the word of God. Belief in God in European countries is much smaller. In France it is slightly over 23%. Religion is almost non-existent in Denmark and Sweden. I know that statistics can be misleading but these findings echo my own observations. Since my family and I arrived in the United States in the late forties religiosity has gotten much more pervasive. It seems to have spread like volcanic lava. Presidents Roosevelt and Truman did not end every speech with “God bless America”. According to the Huffington Post Richard Nixon was the first president to use that phrase. Ronald Reagan extended it to every phase of American life. Now Presidents also offer prayers to victims of catastrophes like floods and hurricanes and wherever and whenever misfortune strikes. Barack Obama has embraced this habit with a particular fervor.

It was not until 1954 that the phrase “One nation under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. “In God We Trust” only appeared on our currency in 1956.
Our early Presidents had a very different attitude to religion. They were deists. They believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, a creator who does not interfere in the universe. Deism rejects the belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind. The words Christianity, God, or Bible do not show up at all in our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson said: It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty gods or no god.
Benjamin Franklin was thought to be an atheist although some people dispute this. In Poor Richard’s Almanack he wrote: The way to see by faith is to shut the eyes of reason. And here is what Abraham Lincoln had to say: “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession.”
Woodrow Wilson wrote that like every intelligent man he believed in evolution.
So it seems that America has regressed to a more primitive attitude and I think that this should disturb every thinking person.

The Power of Music

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A news snippet caught my attention…Somewhere in South Africa, baroque music was being played in a vineyard and was credited with stimulating the production and improving the quality of the wine. I had heard of cows giving more milk and hens laying bigger eggs when they were serenaded, but unlike grapes, they have ears. Also why baroque music and not Strauss waltzes or Gregorian Chants? I was puzzled and decided to do a little googling. It turns out that it is not at all unusual to play music in vineyards for better quality wine. It has to do with vibrations and low frequencies. Loudness does not matter but it seems that plants do not like rock .

“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted tree” (William Congreve, 1697). Orpheus, it was said, could charm animals with his singing. The Pied Piper lured children with the magic of his instrument and don’t snake charmers control serpents with their flutes?

In “The Magic Flute” Pamino calls Tamina with his flute and Papageno pacifies wild animals with his glockenspiel. It also summons his bride Papagena to his side.

Do animals make music or feel its effects? Maybe their elaborate courtship rituals are accompanied by some melodic sounds. When we say that birds sing, is that what they really do? When dogs howl together are they performing in a choir? In laboratories it was found that rats did better and were faster after listening to Mozart. Pet owners know that their cats and dogs react to music. It sometimes agitates and sometimes calms them. But they are not really wired to appreciate sounds tailored to human ears. What strikes us as unpleasant or shrill may be music to them.

Researchers have found that music stimulates the brain and some are attempting to ascertain whether music can overcome depression or help people with Alzheimer’s since it can reach areas that words do not penetrate. Some melodies have traveled from so far away and so long ago that when we hear them we sometimes think we recognize them in a sort of ancestral memory.

In Robert Browning’s words: Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once.